Ezra Klein

  • May 15, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Obstructionism in Congress, as Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein argue in their new book, is largely, if not solely, born by Republicans. The obstructionism, which has, among other things, kept the number of vacancies on the federal bench consistently high, is finally prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to rethink his opposition to reforming the filibuster, which has been the primary tool for Republican obstructionism in the Senate.

    The public interest group, Common Cause, has also gotten into the act by lodging a federal lawsuit against that the filibuster, which conservatives in the Senate have used in an unprecedented manner, helping to create a Congress where not much is accomplished. (The Tea Party and the nation’s super wealthy, of course, like it this way. Economic policy continues to exacerbate economic inequality and brain-addled Tea Party leaders believe the Constitution established a weak central government, though in reality they just long for the Articles of Confederation, which really did establish a weak central power.)

    Writing about the lawsuit for the Common Cause blog, Common Blog, Bob Edgar, the group’s president and CEO, who served 12 years in Congress, claims “ideological purists” in both parties have learned how to wield the filibuster to “pretty much shut the place down.” The filibuster he maintains is supposed to extend debate, not stop it.

    “Here’s how the obstructionists work,” he writes. “To begin debate on a bill, senators must first adopt a ‘motion to proceed.’ But debate on that motion, as on most everything else that comes before the Senate is unlimited unless at least 60 senators vote to end it. That means a minority of as few as 41 can block any action simply by refusing to permit a vote on the motion to proceed.”

    The group, representing members of Congress and children of undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from enactment of the DREAM Act, says the Constitution intends for the filibuster’s use in specific circumstances.

    Attorney Emmet J. Boundurant and Common Cause Staff Counsel Stephen Spaulding prepared and lodged the lawsuit. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein in a blog post about the constitutionality of the filibuster cites a 2011 article in which Boundurant explains his constitutional case against the filibuster. Klein also provides historical context for the filibuster, calling it a mistake. Klein cites Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison containing arguments against the use of a supermajority.  

  • January 12, 2010

    After ACSblog published "The Abuse of the Filibuster," by Derek Duarte, a slew of columnists spilled ink on the Senate rules that have proven fertile ground for legislative gridlock. And one idea is being floated on Capitol Hill that may change the way that Washington works.

    The modern filibuster was born in 1975, with a revision to Senate Rule 22. This week, Attorney Thomas Geoghegan outlined the filibuster's evolution in The New York Times

    As revised in 1975, Senate Rule 22 seemed to be an improvement: it required 60 senators, not 67, to stop floor debate. But there also came a significant change in de facto Senate practice: to maintain a filibuster, senators no longer had to keep talking. Nowadays, they don't even have to start; they just say they will, and that's enough. Senators need not be on the floor at all. They can be at home watching ["Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"] on cable. Senate Rule 22 now exists to cut off what are ghost filibusters, disembodied debates. 

    One proposal for changing this state of affairs graced the pages of The New Republic last month: Act now to end the filibuster in, say, 2017. Since changing Senate rules requires a two-thirds vote, and considering that no minority party is going to forfeit their power to block enactment of the majority's will -- the argument goes -- Senators should be amenable to curing the body's dysfunctional rules of operation at a date when the majority party is unknown.

    Sen. Tom Harkin has another idea.

  • May 21, 2009

    The latest progressive thinker to see her ideas take shape in the nation's capital is Elizabeth Warren, who will be giving featured remarks on Saturday evening of the 2009 ACS National Convention. Warren (right) is a frequent ACS contributor who serves on the Board of Advisers for ACS's official journal, the Harvard Law and Policy Review. She was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to chair the five-person oversight committee for the distribution of bailout funds.

    According to Ezra Klein:

    Apparently, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Barack Obama, and a variety of other "senior policymakers" met last night to discuss the creation of a new regulator who would have broad authority over consumer financial products.

    This idea, put simply, is Elizabeth Warren's. The key document to understand the proposal is her article in Democracy calling for just such a commission.